Gwen Lott is a meanie! For 17 years she was the woman who hurt our kids for their own good. For 17 years she turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to the cries and wails and bewildered shocked expressions of innocent children and babies as she gave them a good poke with a sharp needle.

What kind of reward does this meanie deserve from society? A medal, that's what.For 17 years, as a public health nurse for Salt Lake County, Gwen Lott, RN, had the thankless job of immunizing literally thousands of children against the dreaded killers, smallpox, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, measles, mumps and rubella. Not only that, she yearly gave hundreds of flu shots to the kids' parents and grandparents, too.

In addition, scores of travelers, missionaries, business people, military personnel, vacationers, diplomats and politicians bound for foreign lands have felt the sting of vaccinations at her hand. Without regard to rank or station, she jabbed them all, protecting them equally against cholera, yellow fever, typhoid, and hepatitis, diseases nearly unknown in this country today because dedicated health professionals like Gwen Lott have been willing to hurt someone a little to help them a lot.

On Dec. 22, 1988, just before Christmas, Gwen Lott retired. Someone younger has taken over being Salt Lake's meanest woman.

Well I, for one, want to thank Gwen. She made all five of my children cry, and I'm glad of it. Five healthy children crowd around my lap every night, and in prayer we thank God for good health, but do we think to bless those meanies who work the healing miracles for him?

You'd think that poking children would make a sourpuss out of a person, but not so with Gwen. She has always been jolly, good natured, fun and funny. Her smile crinkles up her eyes.

I have a special reason to thank Gwen Lott, apart from the fact that she immunized all of my children. She was my 4-H leader when I was a kid, and that made her one of my dearest friends. Years later, whenever I came into the clinic with my own children, she would make her co-workers listen to the same old story about what a terror I was at 4-H camp.

It was true, I have to admit it, but she knew how to handle me, and all of the rest of us wild girls. Just at the peak of our nightly rowdy shenanigans in the tent, Gwen would rise from her camp cot, roll up her sleeves, bring out the alcohol, and give us a good old-fashioned nurse's back rub! Within minutes, we were the sleeping angels our mothers always knew us to be.

It was with that same magic that Gwen Lott handled the frightened children who sat on their mothers' laps facing her needles. She diverted their attention with her jolly countenance, while with gentle, efficient hands she quickly got the bad part over with. Then, with a Band-aid smoothed across the tender spot, and a kindly hug, she sent them out protected against the germy, nasty world.

My youngest child still has one more immunization to get before starting school. When that time comes, my friend will be off with her husband, Juel, doing whatever it is retired meanies do, enjoying her own children and grandchildren, probably not missing her old job at the health clinic at all. But I will miss her. I know that other public health nurses are wonderful, but I will be wishing that Gwen Lott could be the meanie to hurt my child for his own good just this one last time.